One of my friends in Gujarat, had a cricket bat autographed by Sunil Gavaskar (the first one to cross 10,000 runs in cricketing career). It had been with my friend, who is no more now, for several years as a priceless possession. I had an ordinary plastic comb, which I had been using for over twenty-five years. I lost it during one of my relocations. As compared to Sunil Gavaskar’s bat, my comb is a worthless thing, though it continued to render its services in keeping my hair neat set. An antiquarian would definitely be able to sell my comb for a fortune, if he could convince that it belonged to Napoleon. But there was no plastic when Napoleon was alive.
The bow-shaped iron bar leaning against the sidewall at the entrance of Sandhurst Bridge on Harbour Line in Bombay (now Mumbai), is a monumental piece that reminds one of the Bombay Dock explosion of forties. This piece is painted every year and preserved by the railway authorities. The big pot-bellied container in my ancestral home has seen not less than five generations and still capable of storing about fifty kg of rice. I think, this would be a rare specimen of its kind.
There are a number of notable, enduring and inspiring examples of personal as well as national importance – be it a tombstone, a memento, a relic or an obsolete coin of bygone era. All these point out towards some stories of human civilization. Importance is an unique feature. A beautiful garland loses its importance in the hands of a monkey. And importance necessarily depends upon one’s taste. The remnants of the past can speak out only to those who have an ear to listen. Combing through the remnants of Mandu (100 km away by road from Indore, Madhya Pradesh), one can dive into the historic past. We have been preserving many historical landmarks, though in dilapidated condition, through Archeological department. Many of them are well maintained and many are not. Many are orphaned and at the brink of total destruction. By the time archaeological department takes over such unnoticed representatives of the past, there would be hardly anything worthy of preserving.
Recently, the four hundred years old Thanjavur palace in Tamil Nadu collapsed due to incessant rains. And the next step was, indeed, a save-our-old-culture call to the archaeological department. There will now appear some modern patches to keep together the old culture.
Many of the old structures of rajas and maharajas have become abodes of bats. With much enthusiasm once I went to see the palace of the Raja of Dharampur, near Valsad in Gujarat. But I had to make a retreat because the whole place was stinking with the excreta of bats. There were thousands of bats dwelling freely inside the palace.
There are tell-tale examples of corrupted antiquities. In London’s Natural History Museum a fly made history. The fly, said to be of thirty-eight million years old, was an inmate of the museum since 1922, when it was bought from a German fly expert. Of late, it was found to be hardly 200 years old.
History repeats. The earlier hoax of ‘Piltdown Man’ was not different from that of the ‘young fly’ of the Natural History Museum. Charles Dawson made a sensational discovery in 1912 – a skull of 500,000 years old. ‘Eoanthropus Dawson’, as Dawson named it, was alleged to be the missing link. The upper part was of human and lower part was of an ape. In 1953, it was established that the brain case was not 500,000 but most like 50,000 years old. The teeth were found deliberately ground flat and the jaw was of modern origin. Science has come of age since Dawson’s days. After all, a period of 50,000 years is not so bad for an antique.
14 Jan1994 - Appeared in Free Press Journal, Indore Edition